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A Christian Perspective on Fantasy and Science Fiction:
The Time Machine by HG Wells
Morality: C-
Writing: B

[...]
As an adventure story the book is all right, I suppose, although certainly nothing impressive, especially compared to the complexity of much modern sci-fi. The thinly-veiled social commentary, besides seeming slightly dated, annoyed me quite a bit. But my main problem morally was the book's whole outlook on the world -- it assumes not only evolution, but evolution unguided by any purpose, and humans as a fading race, fading beyond recognition in this future era after the glorious apex of their civilization. Christianity holds that humanity has both a purpose and an inherent dignity. This book lacks substantial hope. It's probably too short and straightforward to be harmful, but in its worldview, it's not uplifting. And it's not that well-written, either -- adequate, certainly, but not impressive.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr
Morality: A
Writing: A+

[...]
As you have probably already guessed, this is not only a well-written book but a profoundly religious one. It is drenched in Catholicism and will therefore probably have more meaning (and humor) for Catholics, but I think that Christians of all stripes will appreciate its message of sin and hope. Read it, and then sit on your friends until they read it too.

Tales From The White Hart by Arthur C Clarke
Morality: B
Writing: B

[...]
There's not a whole lot of moral content to this book one way or the other.
via Justine Larbalastier, whose own book got a B for morality, and who makes the perfectly fair point that this a much healthier approach than trying to actually ban Harry Potter. Happily for the rest of us, it's also much funnier.
 
 
 
 
 
 
I foresee many happy evenings of howling at the PC! It is funny, but I'm really not clear on the credentials of the reviewers: at least one review (McKillip's Riddemaster trilogy) seemed to have missed an important plot point, and was complaining about the lack of it.

Though Pullman getting an F for morality made it all worthwhile.
interestingly, G P Taylor gets almost the opposite of Pullman's marks: Morality B, Writing F
But wait!

"There are a few problematic elements such as a brief, semi-positive mention of what seems to be a homosexual relationship." (on Tanith Lee's Biting the Sun)

Problematic? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Oh I can see that it might be problematic that it 'seems' to be homosexual, and the mention is 'semi'-positive. Yeah, indecision is definitely problematical!
I promise I'll stop spamming your LJ after this: but what would be most useful would be if they arranged their books by rating, as well as by author, title, genre.

Since so many of my favourites have been awarded F for Depraved, I'd like some recommendations.
Instead of 'read a Banned Book' week you could have 'read a Depraved book' week!
In my house, every week is Depraved Book Week then.
The Time Machine by HG Wells...

See, that review makes me want to go read the book. Happily I have a copy courtesy fishlifters :-)
... you've never read The Time Machine?

(Humour me, I don't get to do that to other people very often.)
*is ashamed*

If I get chance next week, I might read it then. How about that?
I haven't and neither's my wife girlfriend!
That's actually quite a cool site :) I don't agree with, well, quite a lot of their assessments - but it's certainly an interesting idea, and (as you say) a lot more productive than trying to ban things.

I just feel that really this kind of attitude misses the point - both of SFF and of what being a Christian is about. I'm yet to be convinced that you can strengthen anyone's faith by "protecting" them from non-Christian stories. In fact, a lot of the books they look at have quite strong moral principles, but not ones which strictly conform to Christian teaching - but from their perspective, that would be "bad".

The intersection of faith and SFF is frequently an interesting one to explore. But this seems a rather dull way of doing it :)
I'm yet to be convinced that you can strengthen anyone's faith by "protecting" them from non-Christian stories.

Well, indeed. It seems a pretty poor sort of faith if it can't stand up to the challenges of fiction.

It also boggles me that the site is being put up by college students. And if they gave an address I'd buy them a copy of Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life and Others and put it in the post. :)
It also boggles me that the site is being put up by college students. And if they gave an address I'd buy them a copy of Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life and Others and put it in the post. :)

Why so? I don't know the book. And why is it so surprising that they're young? Most of what they're looking at is YA and childrens' fantasy, so maybe they have a closer perspective *g*.

They actually seem to be reasonably sane - I'm just reading through the essays, and they make a lot of good points.
It's only that I don't associate 'college student' with 'doesn't believe in evolution'. Which is my mistake, I know.

Stories of Your Life And Others (I got the title wrong last time) is a brilliant collection of short stories that contains, among others, 'Tower of Babylon', in which the tower of Babel really did reach up to the crystal vault of heaven, and when they got there the builders started digging through, and 'Hell Is The Absence of God', in which angelic visitations are real events. There's an excerpt from the latter here.
Ah - fair enough. I'd forgotten the "not believing in evolution" bit *g* I'd have to agree with you there.

Sounds like an interesting book; I'll take a look at the extract :) You can always suggest it in their guestbook - I was tempted to comment and recommend Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow", which I found to be an astonishingly powerful and complex examination of faith in a science-fictional context.
Yes, The Sparrow is awesome (as is her latest, A Thread of Grace, although it's historical not sf. Didn't care for Children of God so much). I have commented and recommended both it and the Chiang. You never know. :)
Now Ted Chiang is an interesting case. I have read a few reviews which suggest that Chiang is putting forward a humanist viewpoint that excludes God, but I am not so sure, I see Chiang as fitting in with a worldview that says God is all around us, that science observes and defines his plans rather than replaces him. Hence in 'Tower Of Babylon' Heaven is not a place to be reached via the tower, but a state of mind to be acheived by undertsanding God's plan.

I fall in the camp that would be very surprised if Chiang believes in God, but it had struck me that the reading you suggest is available. Which is why I would be interested to see what they think of him.
Man's relationship to God recurs so often in Chiang's stories that I wonder where he does stand. As someone of Catholic upbringing who has recently returned to an approximate faith, I find Chiang interesting. I wonder if, like me, he is in two minds and is exploring this dlemma in his fiction?
Hmm...I'm with Niall on this.

See, I'm as agnostic as they come (seeing as I've got a few logical problems with hard atheism, in any event), but I'm really quite utterly fascinated by belief, religion, and religious mythology. The dillema is a riveting one, whether it's deeply personal or 'merely' academic.
"All science fiction is fundamentally post-religious literature (or, as some would have it, another substitute for religion). This means that the universes described in science fiction are fundamentally knowable. What appears mysterious at a distance can be weighed and measured by the explorer or scientist who finds it. Faith dissolves, replaced by a sense of wonder at the complexity of creation." -- Jeremy Smith, reviewing Ted Chiang on Infinity Plus http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/storiesofyour.htm

I need to think about this a lot more, but my instinctive reaction is that this is wrong. There are a slew of SF stories wherein Science contributes to a Faith-oriented view of the Universe, or where principal characters explore the nature of their faith in an SF context. Ted Chiang is one author who fits this, Richard Paul Russo, Mary Doria Russell and Dan Simmons too. The list of religious SF authors includes practising Catholics (Miller, Lafferty, Wolfe, Gwyneth Jones and I think Garry Kilworth spring to mind); Buddhist (KS Robinson); Jewish; Mormon (OS Card) etc. So it seems wrong to call SF post-religious.
My dad introduced me to SF when I was a wee lass, and he's a church-goer. I always wonder how he reconciles the two. I can understand someone writing a story from within their own perspective ('The book of Mormon is true' or whatever) but how do they read books in which their own perspective is false? Particularly the convincing books? Suspension of dis/belief I suppose.
but how do they read books in which their own perspective is false?
Like ones with faster-than-light or time travel?
Thank you for this link! I love the concept of the site and the way it's executed with such earnestness. People are hilarious.
I particularly enjoy the way that in some of the reviews, the reviewer is amused that they are doing this and slighly sending things up. My favourite such excerpt is below.

Morally, there isn't really anything problematic. The religious setting is fuzzy; there's a god named Frith, and a Death-figure called the Black Rabbit of Inlé. And they don't have marriage. But, well, they're rabbits. I don't think it's a problem.
(Watership Down)

On the other hand, I can't help wanting to slip them a copy of Kushiel's Dart just to see what they have to say.
On the other hand, I can't help wanting to slip them a copy of Kushiel's Dart just to see what they have to say.

Nooooo!
*moves in a freeze-frame slow-mo 'saving the world' way*
*realises that's not going to work and glares instead*

Save the fluffy people from Kushiel's Dart. They will cry.
Temptation, oh temptation . . .

That would be . . . *interesting*. But they'd have fits about 10 lines into the blurb of Dart, and they wouldn't get to explore all the fun theology in Chosen and Avatar.
And Kushiel's Dart isn't real memetic poisoning. For that, you'd have to go for something like the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or Left Behind. (I'd be fairly interested to see what the reviewers would make of Left Behind tbh)
Why would anyone wish a terrible writer like Donaldson on anyone? [/predictable drive-by sniping]
(I'd be fairly interested to see what the reviewers would make of Left Behind tbh)

Ditto (and if they like its morality, we know they're insane).
Kushiel is well-written, and thus more dangerous than Donaldson. I didn't get far enough to discover if his universe was more disturbing than Carey's. It certainly wasn't as interesting.
Hi guys. I'm glad to see that the word is being spread about our website Refracted Light, even if not everyone likes it. (At least we're providing you with some humor, eh?) I want to thank Coalescent for bringing it to everyone's attention. ;)

There are a couple things I wanted to clear up with regard to the site, since people seem to have misunderstood a few of our points. Wychwood says: "I just feel that really this kind of attitude misses the point - both of SFF and of what being a Christian is about. I'm yet to be convinced that you can strengthen anyone's faith by "protecting" them from non-Christian stories. In fact, a lot of the books they look at have quite strong moral principles, but not ones which strictly conform to Christian teaching - but from their perspective, that would be "bad"."

Neither Rose nor I believe that people need to be "protected" from non-Christian stories. (Take a look at our favorite books lists, which include multiple non-Christian books.) Several of my favorite fantasy novels, for example books by Patricia McKillip or Connie Willis (the best modern sci-fi writer out there in my opinion), are non-Christian or even to some degree anti-Christian. This doesn't keep me from enjoying and loving these books, both on a literary level and for the ideas they discuss. The purpose of our site is simply to inform potential readers of books regarding their content and writing quality, so the readers can make their own decision about whether they want to read them. The site is a tool. If someone read a review of a book we'd given an F for morality, and decided based on the review that they definitely wanted to read the book, the site would still be doing its job because its job is to help people decide whether they want to read a certain book. We're definitely not out there to preach to anyone.

Of course, the site is geared toward Christians, which is why we make it very clear that we are using Christian definitions of morality for our moral grade scale. Non-Christians may not find the site the least bit helpful. If they don't, that's fine. However, if they do, so much the better for us.

Oh yes. I think my comment about evolution was misread. I was not addressing the issue of the truth of evolution per se, but simply commenting that the pointless, unguided evolution depicted in _The Time Machine_ is contrary to the Christian doctrine of Hope and purpose to our lives.

One last thing -- if any of you are actually willing to fulfill your desire to send us books, please just e-mail us -- refracted_light@pax-romana.net -- and we'll give you our address. Over the past couple of years we have received about 25 books from authors, and we always accept review copies.

P.S. We don't like Left Behind.

P.P.S. We love Harry Potter.